Santa Cruz air taxi startup scores $590M funding from Toyota, others

Santa Cruz air taxi startup scores $590M funding from Toyota, others

Joby Aviation Inc. on Wednesday got a big boost in its plans to offer flying taxis with a $590 million funding round led by Toyota Motor Corp.

The deal makes Santa Cruz-based Joby the best-funded startup in the race to offer air taxis, though it isn’t yet ready to start offering its service to the public.

Joby said it plans to operate its aircraft as a service, charging passengers per trip. It hasn’t said how much rides will cost, instead projecting that over time it “should approach the cost of ground transportation.”

Joby has now raised a total of $720 million. It said it will use the new funds to accelerate the certification and deployment of its five-seat aircraft. It is now testing protoypes and aims to launch its first commercial flights in 2023.

It signed a partnership last month with Uber Technologies Inc. to jointly begin offering air taxis by 2023. The plan is for Joby to supply and operate the air taxis and for Uber to provide skyports, access to ground connections and an aerial rideshare network.

Joby says its aircraft are capable of speeds of 200 miles per hour and can fly more than 150 miles on a single charge. It also claims they are 100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying overhead.

“We are building a new system for transportation to transform your daily life, at greater safety and, in time, at a similar cost to driving,” Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt said in the announcement of the new funding. “I am excited to harness Toyota’s engineering and manufacturing prowess helping to drive us to achieve our dream of saving a billion people an hour a day.”

Joby declined to say how many people it employs. As of Wednesday, its website showed 142 job openings between locations in Santa Cruz, San Carlos and Marina. The latter city is where it plans to build its aircraft.

Toyota said it will share its expertise in manufacturing, quality and cost controls to support the development and production of Joby Aviation’s aircraft.

“Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky,” Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said in the funding announcement.

The Joby deal is one of several that the Japanese auto giant has announced as it pushes into new transportation technologies.

Last year it backed San Jose-based Recogni Inc., which is working on autonomous vehicle systems, and Michigan-based May Mobility, which operates self-driving shuttle buses. It announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month that it will build a 175-acre community near Mount Fuji that will be a showcase for self-driving cars and other futuristic transportation.

Joby’s announcement comes a day after another Silicon Valley startup, Palo Alto-based Opener Inc., said it plans to start selling its single-passenger ultralight “flying cars” later this year. Its BlackFly vehicles, though, can only travel over uncongested areas and won’t be competing with the likes of Joby.

It also comes about a month after The Boeing Co. and Mountain View-based Kitty Hawk Corp. said they have reorganized and rebranded a flying car venture they are collaborating on as Wisk Aero LLC. Both Wisk and Opener are funded by Alphabet Inc. co-founder Larry Page.

Other competitors in the air taxi space include Airbus SE; South Korean automaker Hyundai, which also recently said it plans to design and produce an air taxi with Uber; and Volocopter, a German startup that is backed by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co, a Chinese company that owns Volvo, as well as Daimler AG and British automaker Lotus.

Toyota was joined in the new Joby funding by prior investors Sparx Group, Intel Capital, Capricorn Investment Group, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures.

Other new investors include Baillie Gifford and Global Oryx.

Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama will join Joby’s board of directors.


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